What do John Elway, Terrell Davis, Rod Smith, Shannon Sharpe, Jerry Rice, Steve Young, Ricky Watters, Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler have in common? Other than the fact that they all are or were explosive players, the short answer is Mike Shanahan.
Young and Rice were known for sick digits throughout their careers, but they had some of their best seasons when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator in San Francisco from 1992-94. Young had one of only two 4,000-yard passing seasons in 1993 and a career-high seven rushing touchdowns in 1994. He also had the most passing TDs over any three-year span of his career, tossing 89 under Shanahan’s guidance. Rice had his second-highest reception total in 1994 (112) and his third-highest receiving yardage total in 1993 (1,503) with Shanahan calling plays.
But for all the Hall of Fame-caliber talent he has coached, he has also turned guys such as Brian Griese, Jake Plummer, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Reuben Droughns, Ed McCaffrey, Tatum Bell and Ashley Lelie into fantasy starters.
While the NFL’s other head coaching changes, Pete Carroll in Seattle and Chan Gailey in Buffalo, could result in some statistical improvements, the only one that will have a big impact on stat columns in 2010 is Shanahan joining the Redskins.
Based on Shanahan’s track record, fantasy owners should be adding Redskins offensive players to sleeper lists. It’s almost impossible for Shanahan to be part of an offense that’s not ranked among the league’s top 10.
After his team finished 22nd in offensive yardage in 2009, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder wasted no time bringing in Shanahan. As head coach of the Broncos from 1995-2008, Shanahan helped Denver finish in the top seven in offensive yardage 10 times. His final Broncos team finished second in total offense, averaging 395.8 yards per game. Following his departure last season, Denver dropped to 15th (341.4 yards).
Shanahan, who will call plays while his son, Kyle, takes over as offensive coordinator, is known for an uncanny ability to develop quarterbacks, while his zone-blocking schemes have resulted in six different running backs producing 11 1,000-yard rushing seasons over 14 years in Denver.
That’s good news for several players in Washington. Quarterback Donovan McNabb will run a different system than he did during his entire career in Philadelphia, but he and the offensive genius in charge could be a match made in heaven. Many have downgraded McNabb due to the move, but Shanahan will certainly give the potential Hall of Famer the green light to toss the rock all over the field each week. The Redskins have also made an attempt to improve McNabb’s protection, adding left tackle Trent Williams in Round 1 and sleeper tackle Selvish Capers in Round 7 of the NFL Draft, plus veteran Jammal Brown, a former Pro Bowl tackle for the Saints.
Running backs Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson could be rejuvenated in the new blocking scheme, and talented tight ends Chris Cooley and Fred Davis along with wide receivers Santana Moss, Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly (who at 6'4", 227, is reminiscent of Brandon Marshall) should be on preseason sleeper lists while competing for snaps.
KEY OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR HIRES
These three new offensive coordinators will have a significant impact on fantasy values this season.
Mike Martz, Bears
Known for his ability to turn below-average quarterbacks into contributors, Martz plus Jay Cutler could equal fantasy gold. He will play four- and five-wide receiver sets, so look for Devin Aromashodu, Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett to be solid sleepers while Devin Hester likely returns to more of a full-time special teams gig. Greg Olsen’s fantasy value takes a huge hit because Martz is not a fan of tight ends. Running backs Matt Forté and Chester Taylor are great receivers, so both should carry solid value in PPR leagues under Martz — Forté as an RB2, Taylor as a late-round sleeper.
Charlie Weis, Chiefs
Weis built the Patriots into a top-10 NFL offense in 2004, and his presence should be great for the development of quarterback Matt Cassel, which in turn should help the stat columns of wide receivers Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers and open things up for running backs Thomas Jones, Jamaal Charles and “offensive weapon” Dexter McCluster.
Hue Jackson, Raiders
Can the man who developed T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Roddy White and Joe Flacco help take Jason Campbell to the next level? The new Jackson-Campbell combo could lead to increased value for wideouts Louis Murphy, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Chaz Schilens, and Zach Miller could blossom into a legit TE1. Jackson’s presence could also help Darren McFadden finally have the breakout season many have been waiting for.
This article originally appeared in the Athlon Sports 2010 Fantasy Football magazine. Buy your copy now at newsstands and bookstores or by clicking here.
Paul Hickey is the lead contributor for Athlon Fantasy Football and operates the website NoOffseason.com, a 365-day resource for obsessive fantasy owners who eat, breathe and sleep fantasy football. While the site appeals to all fantasy heads, there is a special emphasis on dynasty formats and individual defensive player leagues.